High hopes for England but Cook should still step down as captain
The England cricket camp is back in full spirit, following their eventual comprehensive 3-1 Test series victory over India, and now would be the perfect time for captain Alastair Cook to relinquish his captaincy on a high.
While Peter Moores’ side have now leapfrogged India and Sri Lanka into third place in the ICC Test rankings, it doesn’t hide the fact that the Essex opener is still without a century in this form of the game in 31 innings.
Despite Cook holding the record for the most amount of hundreds for England in history, with 25 (two more than exiled Kevin Pietersen), he could have had so many more if he performed at the same rate.
There is no doubt over his outstanding natural ability, and Cook’s 95 and 70 not out scores against India in the third Test arguably inspired a series turnaround, after being 1-0 down, and prove he is still needed. His first innings total was agonisingly short of a long-awaited ton, but was the catalyst for 150 knocks by Zimbabwe-born Yorkshire sensation Gary Ballance and elder statesman Ian Bell, who was also in need of a high score.
Ultimately, that temporarily silenced the many critics that included a number of former England captains such as Michael Vaughan, Sir Ian Botham and Michael Atherton. Scores of just 17 and then 79 by Cook followed in the remaining two matches, with young Yorkshireman starlet Joe Root top scoring on both occasions.
It is no accident, though, that Cook’s dramatic drop in form has coincided with him taking over the captaincy from Andrew Strauss. Recently, whitewash losses to Australia in The Ashes and Sri Lanka at home, suggested the 29-year-old doesn’t have what it takes to lead this regenerating side to their previous heights.
England need their star player back, a man who once was so steady and dominant at the top order, to terrify bowlers. With all the pressure off him, Cook could go back to his glory days and help inspire the nation to the top once more.
Cook is neither renowned for his tactically astute or attacking mind, and he never really fills the interview room with self-belief in his leadership skills. Following England’s victory over India, he revealed that his wife convinced him to stay skipper. The moment you seriously question yourself, it is time to quit.
“Without my wife, I don’t think I’d be standing here as captain,” he said. “You don’t often say things like that – I don’t know why I just have – but it’s the way I feel.
“You can bare your soul quite often to Alice and she’s very good at getting me back on the straight and narrow.
“That fourth night at Headingley [against Sri Lanka] was a tough place because we had let a winning position slip. Lord’s was also very tough – the way we lost there in conditions that were suited to us.
He did claim, however: “But I’m quite stubborn – I believe in my ability. I stuck in there through the tough times. Sport tests your character and to bounce back as a team is testament to our character.”
But now that Cook’s reputation has been restored, he should pass on the captaincy to another and fully prepare himself for the next Test series, which is eight months away against the West Indies.
This youthful side, which contained six players under the age of 25 at The Oval, need a leader and someone with more passion and desire to succeed. Cook is still young, and could easily have another five or six years at the top of his game, but someone such as current international Twenty20 captain Stuart Broad would bring a whole new determination to the side.
The future is certainly still bright for England, especially with Cook in the side. Yorkshire duo Root (23) and Ballance (24) will be a key part of the national set-up for years to come, while the likes of Jos Buttler (23), Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes (both 25) showed much promise. Australian-born batsman Sam Robson (25), meanwhile, will be given more chances to establish his partnership with the improving Cook.
Even Bell and James Anderson, who seem to have been around for ever, are only 32 apiece and have a few years left in them. New spin sensation Moeen Ali and Broad are 27 and 28 respectively, while the likes of Eoin Morgan (27), Steven Finn (25) and Ben Stokes (23) should be a big part of England’s future too.
Next up for Cook and his side is the five-match ODI contest against India, starting on August 25th at Gloucestershire’s County Ground,. They are odds-on at 4/6 to win the series.